Coral reefs: A Valuable Source of Ecological Richness
Coral populations have declined drastically over the past few years, particularly up and down the 358 mile reef system of the Florida Keys. A multitude of stressors including pollution, hurricanes, over-fishing, vessel groundings and a wide-spread disease has devastated reefs in the Florida Keys, resulting in a 90 percent loss of live coral.
While several changes have been made to increase the protection of these reefs and reduce these threats, unfortunately, invasive species have now taken over the system. State and federal coral reef managers realized that with this wide-spread system shift, it would be hard for reef building corals to recover on their own. If the Florida reef system was going to be preserved, corals were going to need to be rebuilt at a scale that had never before been attempted.
Unlike restoring wetlands or forests, coral reef restoration is a relatively new science. Experts in coral ecology were brought in to plan for what a natural reef needed to grow and thrive and to set restoration targets not just to restore the former reef, but to rebuild a more resilient reef able to grow and expand in today's ocean. Together, they established Mission Iconic Reefs – a plan that identified seven sections, approximately 260,000 square meters in total, of the Florida Keys reef track that represented the different types of reefs important to the overall ecosystem and established an action plan for restoring these key sites.
With a plan in place, Aramco has joined NFWF and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through its Coral Reef Conservation Fund to prepare for this all important mission and to foster innovation and increased understanding as coral conservation projects move into uncharted waters in their efforts to rebuild the reefs. Aramco's experience and interest in marine environmental protection, in particular with deploying artificial reefs and management of coral reefs, now extends to Caring for Coral in U.S. waters.